Thursday, July 16, 2009

Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy, by Joseph Gelfer .

I've just finished reading Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy, by Joseph Gelfer.

The back cover states that all of the earlier men's movements, mythopoetic, evangelical, and to a lesser extent, the Catholic men's movement are little more than a thinly veiled patriarchal spirituality, promoting a heteropatriarchal spirituality by appealing to to neo-jungian archetypes of a combative and oppressive nature.

it then examines Wilber's Integral Spirituality which "aims to honor both the masculine and the feminine, but which privileges the former to the extent where it becomes another masculine spirituality, with all its inherent patriarchal problems."

He then offers gay spirituality as a form of masculine spirituality which "to a larger degree resists patriarchal tendencies, suggesting a queering of spirituality could be useful for all men, gay and straight."

I've reviewed it on and thought some of you might be interested in my review and reading the book.

My review:

This is a valuable, ambitious book, but Joseph Gelfer makes huge leaps of assumptions around a lot of it. For example, Gelfer reaches a conclusion that because [Integral Spirituality] author Ken Wilber talks about seeing perspectives from the 50,000 foot level, he must be guilty of the "up and out" directionality transcendence attributed to the masculine qualities Gelfer then rejects. Gelfer goes on to say that the 50,000 foot view equates with the "thrust of jet engines, again technology (masculine) dominating nature (feminine)," dampening the good parts of his message by often trekking into fantastic conclusions.

Gelfner also applies a very limited use of archetypes, choosing to put emphasis on only one interpretation of those archetypes through the evangelical, mythopoetical, and integral use of them, only finally touching on a solution at the end. Granted, that's the way they are represented in most men's work, but not all (disclosure: I facilitate men's groups using archetypes and shadow). He also only illustrates one example of feminine archetypes: Talk about favoring the masculine!

It's too bad, because Gelfer has a lot to say that's important that gets lost in the exaggeration, loose connection, and stretched assumptions. I'm admittedly a big Wilber fan, although I don't agree with everything he says. His assessment of Wilber as the masculine gunslinger is dead on, but his conclusions, again, are off. Wilber's tirade about his critics seem more about shadow than masculine dominating Hierarchy. Using Integral Theory and Spiral Dynamics, it's easy to imagine Gelfer directly in the middle of Relativistic Pluralism. Worth reading? Yes, but only to gain some insights on other perspectives and to sharpen critical thinking.

For a deeper discussion on the book, including author Joseph Gelfer, visit


Joseph said...

Hi Gary

Caught as I am between relativistic pluralism and the mean green meme, it’s tempting to say that it is a rather crafty move on behalf of integral theory and SD to mark those who disagree with them as developmentally inferior (or having a view from only a few thousand feet?) ;)

Readworthy “to gain some insights on other perspectives and to sharpen critical thinking”? I’ll happily take that! Thanks for engaging with the book.


Duff said...

"Wilber's tirade about his critics seem more about shadow than masculine dominating Hierarchy."

I think that Wilber's shadow *is* a masculine dominating hierarchy. That was certainly my direct experience of him when I worked at Integral Institute, which by the way was organized as a dominator hierarchy with Wilber in his multi-million dollar loft apartment surrounded by various circles of peons who competed for his attention and power all being paid illegally low wages ($5/hr at one point, which only changed when the organization was sued by a former employee).

I'm not sure I agree that archetypes are purely psychic and not spiritual (at least in Jung's understanding) for this sets up a kind of psychic-spiritual dualism parallel to the mind-body dualism.

But overall, I found Gelfer's book very valuable as an addition to the discussion on masculine spiritualities, and a solid critique of the Integral men's movement, which regularly commits the pre/trans fallacy with regards to patriarchy and feminism.

Gary Stamper said...

Hey Duff,

Thanks for your comments. Your first-hand perspective on Wilber's shadow as a masculine dominator hierarchy is an important one, and I am more than willing, though disappointed, to add it, and Joseph's, to the mix.

Another example would be the Guru and the Pandit episode in WIE where Cohen totally went up and out in his dismissal of feminine spirituality while claiming to have facilitated a breakthrough for these women. Three points made me queasy: That Cohen said it, that Wilber didn't call him on it, and worse, that the women allowed it.

They should try that around the women I know and love.sion

Gary Stamper said...
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